Rights Related to Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in Florida

The following will provide general information on assistance animals in what constitutes a service animal and emotional support animal along with the respective rights of the tenant/buyer and landlord/condo association.  The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) 2010 Regulations define a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.  If they meet this definition, dogs are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government. It should be noted that in most instances, the service animals are dogs but the law does not mandate that to be the case.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such an individual; a record of impairment; or be regarded as having such an impairment. Examples of tasks that could be performed by service animals include but are not limited to:

*guiding people who are blind or have low vision

*alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing

*providing non-violent protection or rescue work

*pulling a wheelchair

*assisting an individual during a seizure

*alerting individuals to the presence of allergens

*retrieving items

*providing physical support with balance to individuals with mobility issues

*calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack

Under the ADA, landlords are allowed to ask the owner of a service animal two verification questions: “Is this a service animal that is required because of a disability? and “What task has the dog been trained to perform?”  By law, the landlord is not able to ask “What’s wrong with you?”  They are only allowed to ask about the need for the service animal which is legally considered an assistance device such as a cane or a walker rather than a pet.

The ADA requires that service animals be accommodated in housing. However, the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) has a broader service animal definition that allows tenants to request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance animal including emotional support animals.  Almost anything can be considered an emotional support animal including a dog, cat, hamster, snake or parrot.  The requirements you need to meet in Florida to qualify for an emotional support animal are the same as in other states. The specific requirements for owners of emotional support animals include:

*A licensed mental health professional needs to determine that an emotional disability exists

*The mental disability is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

*The identified condition substantially limits ability to participate in at least one major life activity

*The professional has to determine that an emotional support animal would help treat the condition or ease the symptoms

*An emotional support animal letter which is a prescription for an emotional support animal

*The letter must come from a licensed mental health professional and be on the mental health professional’s official letterhead

*Must include the therapist’s license details, issue date, and state

In the case where a landlord is severely allergic to dogs, the landlord must consider the renter’s request for reasonable accommodation; and if, granting the request could impose an undue hardship. The determination of undue hardship must be reviewed including the options of alternative accommodations to meet the tenant’s requirement. If an alternative solution cannot be found, it could be treated as a denial and the landlord should be able to show that additional reasonable accommodation were proposed.

If the tenant/buyer has fulfilled the Florida emotional support letter requirements and proof has been provided, the emotional support animal cannot be rejected even with condos that do not accept pets. The Fair Housing Act provides the right to live with an emotional support animal regardless of your condo association’s rules. However, the landlord has the ability to make a claim on the tenant’s security deposit fro any damage the service animal may cause at the end of the tenant’s lease,  If anyone challenges the validated emotional support animal requirements, the owner of the support animal can file a complaint with HUD.

Should you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to let me know. Also, if you are looking to buy or sell residential real estate in South Florida and not currently working with a Realtor, please call me at (954) 547-9483 or via email at jkenney10F@gmail.com.  Many thanks!

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